A lot of you have probably seen this video recently posted over on Crooked Timber. If you haven't seen it, take a few moments and watch it now:
For those who aren't sure, yes, that's a robot and it's finding its footing and maintaining balance using onboard resources. There is no man behind the curtain or processing carried out in a supercomputer elsewhere. Thus it is, in a word, awesome.
Now, this research was funded by DARPA, which means that someone hopes to use it for a weapons system eventually. Supposedly the plan is to use it as a robotic pack mule for soldiers in rough terrain** but given the resourcefulness of the American military community, I'm sure it will occur to someone to place a turret*** on this thing and use it as an ROV sooner or later.**** Still, I think we should keep in mind that this technology has phenomenal peaceful potential.
Consider, for a moment, its possible use for those currently restricted to wheelchairs. Stairs and rough terrain can present serious obstacles for these folks but what if this technology became both robust and cheap? Could we build a quadrapedal robotic "wheelchairs" capable of substantially improved mobility? Sure! How about an all-terrain vehicle for emergency services that could operate in deep snow or in backwoods areas? And what about the opportunities for space probes? A rover that used this system to pick its way over the surface of Mars would be a lot safer than our current wheeled vehicles.
And best of all? This thing just looks f-ing cool.
* No, not the back of a Volkswagon.
** At the risk of being stupid, I wonder why we don't just use an actual pack mule for soldiers in rough terrain.
*** Funny story: I remarked on this idea to my wife and she initially believed that I said someone could put a turd on the robot. Definitely possible but, we agree, not really useful for much.
**** And by that I mean "sooner" since I heard about the whole turret idea from someone else.